By James Moore Jr.
As a second-generation Oakland native, I have fond memories from my youth of the Oakland Auditorium, now called the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, attending Big Time Wrestling, Bay Bombers Roller Derby, Oakland High School Tournament of Champions (TOC) Basketball games, Black Panther Party Rallies and of course James Brown and Motown concerts.
The Auditorium has played host to Martin Luther King, Jr., Elvis, the Grateful Dead and all varieties of civic, sports and community events since 1915.
And now there is a recommendation by the city that would turn the Auditorium arena into office space, destroying one of the only venues of its kind and unraveling a major swath of Oakland’s historic fabric.
The proposal by Orton Development, aside from re-purposing the arena, provides very little detail on the programming or how Oakland residents will benefit.
However, city staff has forwarded their proposal for review by the council’s Community and Economic Development Committee.
Fortunately there’s also a competing proposal that would restore and rejuvenate this Oakland landmark, including the arena, in a manner that engages the greatest number of Oakland residents, provides an incredible amount of economic impact and creates opportunities to positively impact small local businesses.
Creative Development Partners, an Oakland-based development firm with deep roots in local community development, has raised $66 million for a proposal that includes an embedded training and employment program in partnership with Oakland Unified Schools, Laney and Merritt Colleges, to provide career pathways for high school and community college students in a range of accessible and upwardly mobile fields. CDP’s proposal creates added value to the Auditorium through the addition of a new arts-integrated hotel built next to the building, allowing Oakland to attract meetings, conventions, concerts, sporting activities and all sorts of special events.
The plan also includes a cultural and performing arts center, building upon Oakland’s incredible arts scene and supported by a broad range of local and regional arts organizations.
While opposed by a small group of historic preservation activists, CDP has designed a “deep-green” and sustainable hotel that integrates into its surroundings and complements the Auditorium and Oakland Museum.
As they said, “we want to respect the past, while participating in the future.” Oakland desperately needs hotel rooms and the Auditorium provides an opportunity to create a headquarter hotel, which captures convention and special event business.
With the mind blowing amount of new development and money flowing into Oakland from private and institutional sources, it’s important to be mindful that all money isn’t good money, and the same rules that apply to new immigrants to Oakland and the unintended negative impacts of gentrification, it’s imperative that Oakland pursues an equitable development strategy that benefits the most citizens, instead of catering to only the more affluent among us.
We also need to fulfill a promise to young people and other long-time residents, that if you do right, opportunity will come your way.
Anyone who has roots in the city understands the significance of this historic building and the need to restore and reopen it. Creative Development Partners’ project needs to happen and needs for your voice needs to be heard.
The two projects will be heard at the next city Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee meeting on June 9, 1:30pm at City Hall. The details of the project can be found at www.1lmoakland.com. It’s the responsible choice and will set Oakland apart as a national model for equitable economic development.
James Moore, Jr. is the director of the African American Business Exchange and producer of multi-ethnic cultural events.